Special issue of ESA Frontiers assesses the impacts of climate change on people and ecosystems, and strategies for adaptation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, 4 November, 2013
Contact: Liza Lester (202) 833-8773 x 211; llester@esa.org

 

Mangrove islands like these along the upper Lostman’s River in Everglades National Park protect coastlines from stormy waves, storm surge, and erosion – expected to increasingly threaten coastal cities and townships as sea levels rise. Investments in “soft” engineering protections against storm damage, like wetlands and oyster reef restoration, can be cheaper in the long run than seawalls, breakwaters, and groins, and offer benefits for wildlife, fisheries,  and recreation. Credit, Paul Nelson, USGS.

Mangrove islands like these along the upper Lostman’s River in Everglades National Park protect coastlines from stormy waves, storm surge, and erosion – expected to increasingly threaten coastal cities and townships as sea levels rise. Investments in “soft” engineering protections against storm damage, like wetlands and oyster reef restoration, can be cheaper in the long run than seawalls, breakwaters, and groins, and offer benefits for wildlife, fisheries, and recreation. Credit, Paul Nelson, USGS.

President Obama marked the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy with an executive order last Friday “preparing the United States for the impacts of climate change.”

The coming century will bring many changes for natural systems and for the human societies that depend on them, as changing climate conditions ripple outward to changing rainfall patterns, soil nutrient cycles, species ranges, seasonal timing, and a multitude of other interconnected factors. Many of these changes have already begun. Preparing for a future of unpredictable change will require, as the President suggests, the coordinated action of people across all sectors of society, as well as good information from the research community.

The November 2013 issue of the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment is devoted to an assessment of climate change effects on ecosystems, and the consequences for people.

The Special Issue tackles five major topics of concern:

Biodiversity

Ecologists have predicted that species will move out of their historic ranges as climate changes and their old territories become inhospitable. This is already occurring. Past predictions that species would seek out historic temperature conditions by moving up latitudes, uphill, or into deeper waters have turned out to be too simple, as species movements have proven to be idiosyncratic.  Because some species can move and cope with change more easily than others, relationships between species are changing, sometimes in ways that threaten viability, as interdependent species are separated in time and space.

Ecosystem functionality

Living things have powerful influences on the lands and waters they occupy. As existing ecosystems unravel, we are seeing the chemistry and hydrology of the physical environment change, with further feedback effects on the ecosystem.  Ecosystem changes, in turn, feed back to climate.

Ecosystem Services

Impacts on natural systems have direct consequences for crop and seafood production, water quality and availability, storm damage, and fire intensity. Working with rather than against, ecosystems may help society to adapt to changes, like sea-level rise and storm surge, that threaten lives and property.

Combined effects of climate and other pressures

Species will be hard pressed to adapt to rapidly changing physical conditions without room to move. Ecosystems are already stressed by habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, and natural resource extraction.

Preparation for change

Adaptation efforts may need to think beyond the preservation of current or historic natural communities. Existing relationships between species and the landscapes they inhabit will inevitably change. We may need to consider managing the changing landscapes to maintain biodiversity and the functional attributes of ecosystems, rather than specific species.

 

“The impacts that climate change has had and will have on people are interwoven with the impacts on ecosystems. I think that we instinctively know that. In this assessment, we try to draw that connection,” said guest editor Nancy Grimm, a professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University.

To produce this Special Issue of ESA’s Frontiers, a diverse group of over 50 ecological scientists and other stakeholders condensed and illustrated the work they had done for a technical input report on biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services for the US National Climate Assessment. The Assessment is due to be released in 2014.

The collection is aimed at both ecologists and practitioners. The authors hope to demonstrate the potential for researchers to collaborate with practitioners in identifying “policy relevant questions”—information that practitioners need to make science-based decisions about management of natural resources. Grimm would like to see more academic researchers designing “policy-relevant questions” into their research programs, so that research projects may address the data needs of managers while tackling basic science questions.

The authors designed the collection of reports to demonstrate the interrelationships of human and ecosystem productivity, as well as the interrelationships of species, climate, and landscape. By properly managing ecosystems, they say, we are also managing their potential to harm or help society. The variability of the natural world demands equal creativity and flexibility in considering a range of complementary solutions to environmental problems.

 

Special Issue: Impacts of climate change on biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11(9) November, 2013

 

Contents:

  • Evaluating climate impacts on people and ecosystems
    NB Grimm and KL Jacobs 455
  • Climate-change impacts on ecological systems: introduction to a US assessment
    NB Grimm, MD Staudinger, A Staudt, SL Carter, FS Chapin III, P Kareiva, M Ruckelshaus, and BA Stein 456
  • Biodiversity in a changing climate: a synthesis of current and projected trends in the US
    MD Staudinger, SL Carter, MS Cross, NS Dubois, JE Duffy, C Enquist, R Griffis, JJ Hellmann, JJ Lawler, J O’Leary, SA Morrison, L Sneddon, BA Stein, LM Thompson, and W Turner 465
  • The impacts of climate change on ecosystem structure and function
    NB Grimm, FS Chapin III, B Bierwagen, P Gonzalez, PM Groffman, Y Luo, F Melton, K Nadelhoffer, A Pairis, PA Raymond, J Schimel, and CE Williamson 474
  • Climate change’s impact on key ecosystem services and the human well-being they support in the US
    EJ Nelson, P Kareiva, M Ruckelshaus, K Arkema, G Geller, E Girvetz, D Goodrich, V Matzek, M Pinsky, W Reid, M Saunders, D Semmens, and H Tallis 483
  • The added complications of climate change: understanding and managing biodiversity and ecosystems
    A Staudt, AK Leidner, J Howard, KA Brauman, JS Dukes, LJ Hansen, C Paukert, J Sabo, and LA Solórzano 494
  • Preparing for and managing change: climate adaptation for biodiversity and ecosystems
    BA Stein, A Staudt, MS Cross, NS Dubois, C Enquist, R Griffis, LJ Hansen, JJ Hellmann, JJ Lawler, EJ Nelson, and A Pairis 502

 

 

This open access Special Issue was generously funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the US Geological Survey, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

 


The Ecological Society of America is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge. ESA is committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals, convenes an annual scientific conference, and broadly shares ecological information through policy and media outreach and education initiatives. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.

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